Thanksgiving, What Does it Mean?
By Wayne Nelson
November is the month where we in America celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For many, it is simply a day off from work where the object seems to be to stuff as much turkey as possible into our ever-expanding bodies. For others, it is a day to visit family for a time of fun and fellowship. Many a meal on this holiday will be started without so much as a bowed head, indicating a private prayer, or a corporate prayer involving all sitting at the table.
The idea of Thanksgiving seems most remote in too many homes on this holiday that was designed to give thanks to God for what He has done for us. So what does thanksgiving really mean?
Since the central idea in the Thanksgiving holiday is the giving of thanks to God for what He has done for us, it makes sense to turn to His Word for the use of the word "thanksgiving". Actually this exact word is used 28 times in the Scriptures. So we could benefit from studying the actual Hebrew and Greek words translated as "thanksgiving" in trying to understand just what this word really means and just what concept this word conveys within the Scriptures.
The Hebrew word most often translated "thanksgiving" means an extension of the hand, adoration. It also means the sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving. Psalm 50:14 is a good example of the Hebrew use of the word, "Offer unto God thanksgiving and pay thy vows unto the Most High" (KJV). Understanding the definition of the Hebrew word for "thanksgiving", the verse could be translated "Offer unto God your extended hand in adoration".
Have you ever felt that when you were thanking God for what he has done for you, you were actually extending your hand to Him in an attitude of adoration? Think of it, because you love God and want to express your deep feelings of thanks to Him, you extend your hand (a definite sign of fellowship) in an attitude of adoration.
The reason Man was created with free will was to provide a friend to God Ė an individual who would freely choose to be with Him because they wanted to. This is what the extended hand signifies, our willing desire to be Godís friend because we want to. The attitude of adoration recognizes the holiness of God and our total dependence on Him for everything in our lives. Just think, every time you are offering thanksgiving to God, you are shaking hands with your Heavenly Father.
The Hebrew word for "thanksgiving" also means the sacrifice of praise. Thus we are seen as shaking the Hand of our Friend, God Almighty, while offering the sacrifice of praise in adoration to our Heavenly Father. And you thought you were just saying "thanks".
The Greek word translated "thanksgiving" means "a grateful language to God as an act of worship". This is what Paul meant in the 4th chapter of his letter to the Philippians in verse 6, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." (KJV)
So Paul was telling the Philippians, and we as well, that they should let their requests to God be by prayer and supplication in a grateful language to Him as an act of worship. When put this way, the idea of "thanksgiving" takes on a new light. It means that the very act of offering thanks to our Heavenly Father becomes a worship experience for us.
How far we have fallen from the biblical definitions of "thanksgiving"! In only a small minority of houses this Thanksgiving Day will the thanks uttered be an act of worship to a Holy God as we extend our hand to Him in adoration. How utterly shallow has the act of giving thanks become in our homes across this land. We offer lip service to a Holy God who really wants our friendship and our worship, and then we wonder why life seems to be so rough at times.
Thanksgiving Day has become little more than a day off work to do things we want to do after we have stuffed ourselves with Thanksgiving dinner. We look longingly at the upcoming meal and fellowship with friends and family, instead of anticipating the privilege of telling our Heavenly Father just what He truly means to us. Instead of offering our extended hand to our Heavenly Father, we are too busy extending it to others around us. And in place of the adoration we should be giving our Heavenly Father, we surround ourselves with the chatter and laughter of our loved ones, with scarcely a nod to God. The biggest thrill of Thanksgiving Day is that the very next day kicks off the Christmas shopping spree.
Perhaps it is time to again give God what He is due; our deep appreciation of what He has done for us given in a grateful language that is an expression of our worship and adoration. Our hand extended towards our Heavenly Father in a worshipful way that lets Him know that we are most pleased to count Him among our dearest friends. Perhaps it is time to once again put the Scriptural meaning of "thanksgiving" into Thanksgiving Day.
Dr. Nelson is the author of one book, "Walk Where Jesus Walked" and is taking yet another step in the journey his Lord has called him to Ė namely helping the babes in Christ mature, as well as helping other more mature Christians go deeper into God's word. He brings this love for Godís Word and His people to his role as Editor of A Word in Season.
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